Ozymandias
Overview
 
"Ozymandias" is a sonnet
Sonnet
A sonnet is one of several forms of poetry that originate in Europe, mainly Provence and Italy. A sonnet commonly has 14 lines. The term "sonnet" derives from the Occitan word sonet and the Italian word sonetto, both meaning "little song" or "little sound"...

 by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the major English Romantic poets and is critically regarded as among the finest lyric poets in the English language. Shelley was famous for his association with John Keats and Lord Byron...

, published in 1818 (see 1818 in poetry
1818 in poetry
Nationality words link to articles with information on the nation's poetry or literature .-John Keats:* In December, Keats is invited by his friend, Charles Armitage Brown, to move into Brown's home at Wentworth Place, in Hampstead, then a pastoral suburb north of London...

) in the January 11 issue of The Examiner
Examiner
The Examiner was a weekly paper founded by Leigh and John Hunt in 1808. For the first fifty years it was a leading intellectual journal expounding radical principles, but from 1865 it repeatedly changed hands and political allegiance, resulting in a rapid decline in readership and loss of...

in London. It is frequently anthologised and is probably Shelley's most famous short poem. It was written in competition with his friend Horace Smith, who wrote another sonnet entitled "Ozymandias" seen below.

In addition to the power of its themes and imagery, the poem is notable for its virtuosic diction
Diction
Diction , in its original, primary meaning, refers to the writer's or the speaker's distinctive vocabulary choices and style of expression in a poem or story...

.
Encyclopedia
"Ozymandias" is a sonnet
Sonnet
A sonnet is one of several forms of poetry that originate in Europe, mainly Provence and Italy. A sonnet commonly has 14 lines. The term "sonnet" derives from the Occitan word sonet and the Italian word sonetto, both meaning "little song" or "little sound"...

 by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the major English Romantic poets and is critically regarded as among the finest lyric poets in the English language. Shelley was famous for his association with John Keats and Lord Byron...

, published in 1818 (see 1818 in poetry
1818 in poetry
Nationality words link to articles with information on the nation's poetry or literature .-John Keats:* In December, Keats is invited by his friend, Charles Armitage Brown, to move into Brown's home at Wentworth Place, in Hampstead, then a pastoral suburb north of London...

) in the January 11 issue of The Examiner
Examiner
The Examiner was a weekly paper founded by Leigh and John Hunt in 1808. For the first fifty years it was a leading intellectual journal expounding radical principles, but from 1865 it repeatedly changed hands and political allegiance, resulting in a rapid decline in readership and loss of...

in London. It is frequently anthologised and is probably Shelley's most famous short poem. It was written in competition with his friend Horace Smith, who wrote another sonnet entitled "Ozymandias" seen below.

In addition to the power of its themes and imagery, the poem is notable for its virtuosic diction
Diction
Diction , in its original, primary meaning, refers to the writer's or the speaker's distinctive vocabulary choices and style of expression in a poem or story...

. The rhyme scheme of the sonnet is unusual and creates a sinuous and interwoven effect.

Analysis

The central theme of "Ozymandias" is the inevitable complete decline of all leaders, and of the empires they build, however mighty in their own time.

Ozymandias was another name for Ramesses the Great
Ramesses II
Ramesses II , referred to as Ramesses the Great, was the third Egyptian pharaoh of the Nineteenth dynasty. He is often regarded as the greatest, most celebrated, and most powerful pharaoh of the Egyptian Empire...

, Pharaoh
Pharaoh
Pharaoh is a title used in many modern discussions of the ancient Egyptian rulers of all periods. The title originates in the term "pr-aa" which means "great house" and describes the royal palace...

 of the nineteenth dynasty
Nineteenth dynasty of Egypt
The Nineteenth Dynasty of ancient Egypt was one of the periods of the Egyptian New Kingdom. Founded by Vizier Ramesses I, whom Pharaoh Horemheb chose as his successor to the throne, this dynasty is best known for its military conquests in Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria.The warrior kings of the...

 of ancient Egypt. Ozymandias represents a transliteration
Transliteration
Transliteration is a subset of the science of hermeneutics. It is a form of translation, and is the practice of converting a text from one script into another...

 into Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 of a part of Ramesses' throne name, User-maat-re Setep-en-re. The sonnet paraphrases the inscription on the base of the statue
Statue
A statue is a sculpture in the round representing a person or persons, an animal, an idea or an event, normally full-length, as opposed to a bust, and at least close to life-size, or larger...

,
given by Diodorus Siculus
Diodorus Siculus
Diodorus Siculus was a Greek historian who flourished between 60 and 30 BC. According to Diodorus' own work, he was born at Agyrium in Sicily . With one exception, antiquity affords no further information about Diodorus' life and doings beyond what is to be found in his own work, Bibliotheca...

 in his Bibliotheca historica
Bibliotheca historica
Bibliotheca historica , is a work of universal history by Diodorus Siculus. It consisted of forty books, which were divided into three sections. The first six books are geographical in theme, and describe the history and culture of Egypt , of Mesopotamia, India, Scythia, and Arabia , of North...

, as "King of Kings
King of Kings
King of Kings is a title that has been used by several monarchies and empires throughout history. The title originates in the Ancient Near East. It is broadly the equivalent of the later title Emperor....

 am I, Osymandias. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works."

Shelley's poem is often said to have been inspired by the arrival in London of a colossal statue of Ramesses II, acquired for the British Museum
British Museum
The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...

 by the Italian adventurer Giovanni Belzoni in 1816. Rodenbeck and Chaney, however, point out that the poem was written and published before the statue arrived in Britain, and thus that Shelley could not have seen it. Its repute in Western Europe preceded its actual arrival in Britain (Napoleon had previously made an unsuccessful attempt to acquire it for France, for example), and thus it may have been its repute or news of its imminent arrival rather than seeing the statue itself which provided the inspiration.

The 2008 edition of the travel guide Lonely Planet
Lonely Planet
Lonely Planet is the largest travel guide book and digital media publisher in the world. The company is owned by BBC Worldwide, which bought a 75% share from the founders Maureen and Tony Wheeler in 2007 and the final 25% in February 2011...

's guide to Egypt says that the poem was inspired by the fallen statue of Ramesses II at the Ramesseum
Ramesseum
The Ramesseum is the memorial temple of Pharaoh Ramesses II . It is located in the Theban necropolis in Upper Egypt, across the River Nile from the modern city of Luxor...

, a memorial temple built by Ramesses at Thebes, near Luxor
Luxor
Luxor is a city in Upper Egypt and the capital of Luxor Governorate. The population numbers 487,896 , with an area of approximately . As the site of the Ancient Egyptian city of Thebes, Luxor has frequently been characterized as the "world's greatest open air museum", as the ruins of the temple...

 in Upper Egypt
Upper Egypt
Upper Egypt is the strip of land, on both sides of the Nile valley, that extends from the cataract boundaries of modern-day Aswan north to the area between El-Ayait and Zawyet Dahshur . The northern section of Upper Egypt, between El-Ayait and Sohag is sometimes known as Middle Egypt...

. This statue, however, does not have "two vast and trunkless legs of stone", nor does it have a "shattered visage" with a "frown / And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command." Nor does the base of the statue at Thebes have any inscription, although Ramesses's cartouche
Cartouche
In Egyptian hieroglyphs, a cartouche is an ellipse with a horizontal line at one end, indicating that the text enclosed is a royal name, coming into use during the beginning of the Fourth Dynasty under Pharaoh Sneferu, replacing the earlier serekh...

 is inscribed on the statue itself.

Among the earlier senses of the verb "to mock" is "to fashion an imitation of reality" (as in "a mock-up"), but by Shelley's day the current sense "to ridicule" (especially by mimicking) had come to the fore.

This sonnet is often incorrectly quoted or reproduced. The most common misquotation – "Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" – replaces the correct "on" with "upon", thus turning the regular decasyllabic
Decasyllable
Decasyllable is a poetic meter of ten syllables used in poetic traditions of syllabic verse...

 (iambic pentameter
Iambic pentameter
Iambic pentameter is a commonly used metrical line in traditional verse and verse drama. The term describes the particular rhythm that the words establish in that line. That rhythm is measured in small groups of syllables; these small groups of syllables are called "feet"...

) verse into an 11-syllable line.

Publication history

Both Percy Bysshe Shelley and Horace Smith submitted a sonnet on the subject to The Examiner published by Leigh Hunt in London. Shelley's was published on January 11, 1818 under the pen name Glirastes, appearing on page 24 under Original Poetry. Smith's was published on February 1, 1818 with the initials H.S. Shelley's poem was later republished under the title "Sonnet. Ozymandias" in his 1819 collection Rosalind and Helen, A Modern Eclogue; with Other Poems by Charles and James Ollier and in the 1826 Miscellaneous and Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley by William Benbow, both in London. The poem also appeared in The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, edited by Roger Ingpen and Walter E. Peck, published in New York by Gordian Press, 1965, a collection first published in 1904 in London and Boston by Virtue and Company.

Smith's poem

Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote this poem in competition with his friend Horace Smith, who published his sonnet a month after Shelley's in the same magazine. It takes the same subject, tells the same story, and makes a similar moral point, but one related more directly to modernity, ending by imagining a hunter of the future looking in wonder on the ruins of an annihilated London. It was originally published under the same title as Shelley's verse; but in later collections Smith retitled it "On A Stupendous Leg of Granite, Discovered Standing by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt, with the Inscription Inserted Below".

Musical settings

Edward Elgar
Edward Elgar
Sir Edward William Elgar, 1st Baronet OM, GCVO was an English composer, many of whose works have entered the British and international classical concert repertoire. Among his best-known compositions are orchestral works including the Enigma Variations, the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, concertos...

 started on a setting but never finished it. The best known setting appears to be that in Russian for baritone by the Ukrainian composer Borys Lyatoshynsky.

In popular culture

  • Terry Carr
    Terry Carr
    Terry Gene Carr was a U.S. science fiction author, editor, and teacher.Terry Carr was born in Grants Pass, Oregon...

    's science fiction short story Ozymandias was inspired by the poem.
  • In John Christopher's science fiction "Tripods" trilogy, Ozymandias is one of the rebels who recruits children to fight the extraterrestrial "Tripods".
  • Ozymandias (real name Adrian Veidt
    Ozymandias (comics)
    Ozymandias , is a fictional character and the main antagonist appearing in the comic book limited series Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, published by DC Comics. Named Ozymandias in the manner of Ramesses II, he is a modified version of the comic book character Thunderbolt from Charlton...

    ) is a character in the comic book limited series Watchmen
    Watchmen
    Watchmen is a twelve-issue comic book limited series created by writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons, and colourist John Higgins. The series was published by DC Comics during 1986 and 1987, and has been subsequently reprinted in collected form...

    . The inscription in Shelley's poem forms the epigraph to the penultimate issue of the series.
  • In Marvel Comics
    Marvel Comics
    Marvel Worldwide, Inc., commonly referred to as Marvel Comics and formerly Marvel Publishing, Inc. and Marvel Comics Group, is an American company that publishes comic books and related media...

    , Ozymandias
    Ozymandias (Marvel Comics)
    For the Watchmen character, see Ozymandias Ozymandias is a fictional character that appears in comic books published by Marvel Comics. The character first appeared in 1996 in Uncanny X-Men #332, and was created by writer Scott Lobdell and artist Joe Madureira.-Fictional character...

     is a former Egyptian warlord, turned into immortal living stone, who was the slave and chronicler of the villain Apocalypse
    Apocalypse (comics)
    Apocalypse is a fictional character who is an ancient mutant that appears in comic books published by Marvel Comics. The character first appeared in X-Factor #5 , created by writer Louise Simonson and designed by artist Walter Simonson...

    .
  • Jefferson Starship
    Jefferson Starship
    Jefferson Starship is an American rock band formed in the early 1970s. The group is a spin-off from the iconic 1960s psychedelic/folk group Jefferson Airplane. The band has undergone several major changes in personnel and genres through the years while retaining the same Jefferson Starship name...

    's 1976 album Spitfire
    Spitfire (Jefferson Starship album)
    Spitfire is Jefferson Starship's 1976 follow-up to the chart-topping Red Octopus . This album quickly scaled the charts, spending six consecutive weeks at number three in Billboard and going platinum.-Track listing:-Personnel:...

    starts its second side with "Song to the Sun: Part I: Ozymandias / Part II: Don't Let It Rain".
  • The Sisters of Mercy
    The Sisters of Mercy
    The Sisters of Mercy are an English rock band that formed in 1980. After achieving early underground fame in UK, the band had their commercial breakthrough in mid-1980s and sustained it until the early 1990s, when they stopped releasing new recorded output in protest against their record company...

     recorded a song called "Ozymandias", which featured as a B-side
    A-side and B-side
    A-side and B-side originally referred to the two sides of gramophone records on which singles were released beginning in the 1950s. The terms have come to refer to the types of song conventionally placed on each side of the record, with the A-side being the featured song , while the B-side, or...

     on the 12-inch single
    12-inch single
    The 12-inch single is a type of gramophone record that has wider groove spacing compared to other types of records. This allows for louder levels to be cut on the disc by the cutting engineer, which in turn gives a wider dynamic range, and thus better sound quality...

     of "Dominion/Mother Russia
    Dominion/Mother Russia
    "Dominion/Mother Russia" is a song from the album Floodland by The Sisters of Mercy. It was written by Andrew Eldritch and produced by Jim Steinman...

    ". The lyrics of "Dominion" include the final line of Shelley's poem.
  • The album Rattus Norvegicus by The Stranglers
    The Stranglers
    The Stranglers are an English punk/rock music group.Scoring some 23 UK top 40 singles and 17 UK top 40 albums to date in a career spanning five decades, the Stranglers are the longest-surviving and most "continuously successful" band to have originated in the UK punk scene of the mid to late 1970s...

     mentions Ozymandias in the track "Ugly".
  • The B-side of Jean-Jacques Burnel
    Jean-Jacques Burnel
    J. J. Burnel , is a Franco-English musician producer and songwriter, best known as the bass guitarist with the British rock band The Stranglers.-Life and career:...

    's 1979 7" single Freddie Laker (Concorde & Eurobus) was Ozymandias, which contained a recitation of Shelley
    Shelley
    -Meaning:In many baby name books, Shelley is listed as meaning "From the meadow on the ledge" or "clearing on a bank". It is Old English in origin. As with many other names , Shelley is today a name given almost exclusively to girls after historically being male...

    's poem.
  • In Piers Anthony
    Piers Anthony
    Piers Anthony Dillingham Jacob is an English American writer in the science fiction and fantasy genres, publishing under the name Piers Anthony. He is most famous for his long-running novel series set in the fictional realm of Xanth.Many of his books have appeared on the New York Times Best...

    's book "For Love of Evil
    For Love of Evil
    For Love of Evil is a fantasy novel by Piers Anthony. It is the sixth of eight books in the Incarnations of Immortality series.-Plot summary:...

    " Ozymandias is imprisoned in hell. The sonnet plays a central role to a sub-plot that has Satan recruiting Ozymandias as an administrator for Hell.
  • Gatsbys American Dream
    Gatsbys American Dream
    Gatsbys American Dream is a Seattle-based indie rock band. Since their founding in 2002, they have released four full-length albums and one EP. They have also appeared on several compilations with original songs and covers. Gatsbys American Dream drew their name from F...

     has recorded a song with the title "My Name is Ozymandias".
  • Fourth studio album of German neofolk
    Neofolk
    Neofolk is a form of folk music-inspired experimental music that emerged from post-industrial music circles. Neofolk can either be solely acoustic folk music or a blend of acoustic folk instrumentation aided by varieties of accompanying sounds such as pianos, strings and elements of industrial...

     band Qntal
    Qntal
    Qntal is a German "electro-medieval" band founded in 1991 by Michael Popp and Ernst Horn. They later added vocalist Syrah to complete the band. It has roots in Estampie, a band of similar genre but different style; Michael Popp and Syrah are the principal members. Horn left the group in 1999, to...

     is called Ozymandias. Lyrics for the tracks Ozymandias 1 and Ozymandias 2 are taken from Shelley's poem.
  • Parodied in Monty Python S4E2 Michael Ellis by Percy Bysshe Shelley
    Percy Bysshe Shelley
    Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the major English Romantic poets and is critically regarded as among the finest lyric poets in the English language. Shelley was famous for his association with John Keats and Lord Byron...

     reciting "Ozymandias, King of Ants"

Further reading

  • Reiman, Donald H. and Sharon B. Powers. Shelley's Poetry and Prose. Norton, 1977. ISBN 0-393-09164-3.
  • Shelley, Percy Bysshe and Theo Gayer-Anderson (illust.) Ozymandias. Hoopoe Books, 1999. ISBN 977-5325-82-X
  • Rodenbeck, John. “Travelers from an Antique Land: Shelley's Inspiration for ‘Ozymandias,’” Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, no. 24 (“Archeology of Literature: Tracing the Old in the New”), 2004, pp. 121–148.
  • Edward Chaney, 'Egypt in England and America: The Cultural Memorials of Religion, Royalty and Revolution', in: Sites of Exchange: European Crossroads and Faultlines, eds. M. Ascari and A. Corrado (Rodopi, Amsterdam and New York,2006), 39-74.
  • Johnstone Parr. "Shelley's 'Ozymandias,'" Keats-Shelley Journal, Vol. VI (1957).
  • Waith, Eugene M. "Ozymandias: Shelley, Horace Smith, and Denon." Keats-Shelley Journal, Vol. 44, (1995), pp. 22–28.
  • Richmond, H. M. "Ozymandias and the Travelers." Keats-Shelley Journal, Vol. 11, (Winter, 1962), pp. 65–71.
  • Bequette, M. K. "Shelley and Smith: Two Sonnets on Ozymandias." Keats-Shelley Journal, Vol. 26, (1977), pp. 29–31.
  • Pollin, Burton R. "'Ozymandias' and the Dormouse." Dalhousie Review, 47 (1967), 361.
  • Griffiths, J. Gwyn. "Shelley's 'Ozymandias' and Diodorus Siculus." The Modern Language Review, Vol. 43, No. 1 (January, 1948), pp. 80–84.
  • Freedman, William. "Postponement and Perspectives in Shelley's 'Ozymandias'." Studies in Romanticism, Vol. 25, No. 1 (Spring, 1986), pp. 63–73.
  • Thompson, D. W. "Ozymandias." PQ, XVI (1937): 59-64.
  • Pottle, Frederick A. "The Meaning of Shelley's 'Glirastes'." Keats-Shelley Journal, 7, 1958.
  • Edgecombe, R. S. "Displaced Christian Images in Shelley's 'Ozymandias'." Keats Shelley Review, 14 (2000), 95-99.
  • Labriola, Albert C. "Sculptural Poetry: The Visual Imagination of Michelangelo, Keats, and Shelley." Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 24, No. 4 (1987), pp. 326–334.
  • Stephens, Walter. "Ozymandias: Or, Writing, Lost Libraries, and Wonder." MLN, Volume 124, Number 5, Supplement, December 2009, pp. S155-S168.
  • Sng, Zachary. "The Construction of Lyric Subjectivity in Shelley's 'Ozymandias'." Studies in Romanticism, Vol. 37, No. 2 (Summer, 1998), pp. 217–233.
  • Huang, Zhong. "A Reading of Artistic Features in Narrative Poem 'Ozymandias'." Journal of Hefei University of Technology, Hefei, China, 2005.
  • Watson, Richard A. "Ozymandias, King of Kings: Postprocessual Radical Archaeology as Critique." American Antiquity, Vol. 55, No. 4 (October, 1990), pp. 673–689.
  • Janowitz, A. "Shelley's Monument to Ozymandias." Philological Quarterly, Vol. 63, No. 4 (1984), pp. 477–491.
  • Tom Newman's Ozymandias was recorded in 1988, the album only made it as far as test pressings before Newman's label, Oceanvoice, went out of business. Voiceprint finally released it as part of their extensive Newman reissue series in the mid-'90s

External links

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